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Waimea trail draws hikers despite recent citations

Updated: 
July 16, 2017 - 12:05am

WAIMEA — About a week after officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued dozens of trespassing citations, the route known as the White Road Trail continues to draw hikers looking for a day outdoors.

Noah De La Cruz, 19, and Ani Case, 18, were mulling over the idea of hiking the trail while they were parked Saturday morning along the road hikers often take to access the trail, which leads to an overlook and flume.

“I’ve always lived in Waimea and I never got a chance to do it,” said Case. “So he wanted to show me.”

De La Cruz, also of Waimea, said he’s hiked the trail about three times.

“Never been cited though before,” he said.

48 citations

On July 8, officers from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement under DLNR wrote 48 citations to adults and warnings to minors for trespassing into the Kohala Forest Reserve, said Deborah Ward communications specialist for DLNR. Ward said there had been 12 citations issued this year before July 8, but “DOCARE has verbally warned hundreds of people.”

“It is considered criminal trespass,” she said.

It’s a violation comparable to a parking ticket, and the level of any fines imposed are at the discretion of the court hearing the matter.

The trail’s a popular one on the island with many hikers headed to a water flume — a constructed irrigation waterway that adventurers use like a water slide — that drops 35 feet into a shallow pool, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But unlike many other popular trails on the island, access to this one is highly restricted and officials warn that the trail itself is very dangerous.

Legal access to the end of the open trail, which leads to the Waipio lookout, is obtainable, but only for those who get a state permit and permission from the adjacent landowner. That said, the flume is beyond the lookout and after the point the trail is closed. Nobody is allowed back there.

Several steps to take

The first gate hikers would need to cross marks the beginning of property leased by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. At that gate are signs reading “Kapu” and “Keep out.”

“Crossing that property is trespassing without landowner permission,” Ward said.

Beyond that is a second gate belonging to the Department of Land and Natural Resources and marks the boundary of the Kohala Restricted Watershed, part of the Kohala Forest Reserve. Restricted watersheds, Ward noted, are sources of drinking water.

“The only legal access to the restricted watershed (and trail) is by permit from Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which would require proof of permission of the adjacent landowner, which is DHHL,” Ward told West Hawaii Today.

Ward also noted the dangers of hiking the trail, citing damage done by the 2006 Kiholo Bay earthquake. That earthquake resulted in the closure of the trail past the Waipio lookout.

“The trail is slippery when wet and the drop if you fall is hundreds of feet,” she said.

DOCARE’s North Hawaii supervisor in a press release also spoke to the trail’s danger.

“People don’t realize this is a dangerous hike and if you get hurt there’s no cell service and help can be a long ways off,” said Verl Nakama in a release.

A DLNR release said the agency plans to contact travel sites and blogs that write about the trail to let readers know they will be cited if they trespass into the reserve and restricted watershed.

‘We’re just trying to see it’

Case, who was one of several hikers near the trailhead interviewed Friday and Saturday, said it was unfair that DOCARE was citing hikers, saying the trail is one everyone wants to do.

“My mom told me that if anyone were to tell us anything, it’s like for cultural purposes,” said Case. “Because we do respect the land; we’re here to pray for the good of it.”

“We’re not trying to do anything bad,” she added. “We’re just trying to see it, feel it.”

A couple of residents in the area said they disagreed with the citations.

“I don’t mind if people go, just gotta be safe. Travel in a pack.” said Vernon Kaniho, 23.

Kaniho, who lives up the road from the trailhead, said he hasn’t hiked the trail but he’s seen fewer people in the last week, and that the state should just let hikers go.

“Let them adventure, you know,” he said.

Ben Palermo, 72, has lived in a house along the road since 1987 and said hikers should be responsible for their own safety if they choose to go on the trail.

“It’s up to them if they like to go over there,” he said. “They’re gonna get hurt, that’s their problem, yeah?”

But James DuPont, West Hawaii district supervisor for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, said the matter is clear. Signs at the gate marking the DHHL boundary clearly warn against trespassing.

“I mean it’s pretty simple,” he said. “If this was your private property, how would you feel if the masses just crossed your land?”

‘We need to be conscious’

Juni Medeiros, whose family has held the lease to the Hawaiian Home Lands parcel for more than 40 years, declined to speak about the recent citations or enforcement by DLNR, but did want hikers anywhere on the island to keep in mind the unintended consequences their day on a trail might have.

That includes unknowingly carrying in invasive species and causing them to spread.

“When people come in from all different parts of the island where they come from, they come in with shoes, especially, that might have certain insects from their area that contaminates our area,” he said.

That can put forests and other forms of life at risk if they haven’t developed adequate defenses.

That holds true for not only this area, he said, but anywhere hikers may go.

“Traveling should be a caution with those things in mind,” he said. “In order for us to survive, we need to be conscious and conscious of life.”

And while hikers might be OK with assuming any risks involved in taking on the hike, Medeiros reminded them that it’s not just their own lives they might be putting in danger.

“You gotta think about that part, too,” he said.

In the past, he said, he’s witnessed trucks of emergency responders coming in for rescues. Medeiros said “the guy coming in for you” is putting his own life on the line, too.

“He’s got a 2-year-old and he’s waiting for his daddy to come home,” he said.

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